Here is Detroit's problem, in a nutshell:
There simply aren't the people in what was once one of the country's greatest cities.
Did you know that Detroit came within an ace of getting the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Summer Games?
Now, she's less than half the size she used to be. If the 2010 Census shows the City to have a population north of 800,000, I'll be stunned. And dubious.
The mayoral administration has recognized the obvious, and is looking to reconcentrate the population in the viable areas (i.e., closer to Downtown or the viable neighborhoods along the borders with the suburbs).
More than 20% of Detroit's 139 square miles could go without key municipal services under a new plan being developed for the city, with as few as seven neighborhoods seen as meriting the city's full resources.
Those details, outlined by Detroit planning officials this week, offer the clearest picture yet of how Mayor Dave Bing intends to execute what has become his signature program: reconfiguring Detroit to reflect its declining population and fiscal health. Yet the blueprint still leaves large legal and financial questions unresolved.
Until now, the mayor and his staff have spoken mostly in generalities about the problem, stressing the need for community input and pledging to a skeptical public that no resident would be forced to move.
But the approach discussed by city officials could have that effect. Mr. Bing's staff wants to concentrate Detroit's remaining population—expected to be less than 900,000 after this year's Census count—and limited local, state and federal dollars in the most viable swaths of the city, while other sectors could go without such services as garbage pickup, police patrols, road repair and street lights.
I imagine there would have to be the occasional show of police force within the abandoned zones, though--otherwise, Very Bad Things are certain to be cooked up there.
Jeff Culbreath asked me on Facebook what could be done to reverse the situation, and suggested homesteading--focusing on bands of enterprising Catholics reclaiming (and sustaining) neighborhoods. I didn't answer because I wasn't sure how to respond.
Certainly the only thing that will save the City are more people--lots more people. But the only way you will get homesteaders in is if there is some level of independence afforded to the would-be settlers. By that I mean some liberty from the dead hand of bureaucracy which has helped to create this unprecedented American nightmare in the first place. Imagine trying to homestead in Permit Purgatory, red tape bidding fair to strangle the effort in its cradle. You'd have to pass something like the old Homestead Acts to carve through the inevitable problems.
But at this desperate hour, out of the box solutions are the ones that need to be tried.